When to call 911 instead of driving to the ER

It’s not always obvious that an injury or illness is life-threatening. But if your first instinct is to grab an ill or injured person and rush to the closest ER as fast as you can, you may be better off calling 911.  In general, if someone is experiencing new, unexplained or severe symptoms, those are clues that calling 911 may be the better option.

For example, if someone’s having:

  • The worst headache of their life. A bad headache could be a migraine, but it could also be a symptom of a stroke or other life-threatening condition. Strokes and migraines have many overlapping symptoms. With a stroke, you need to so act FAST because “time is brain.”

         Read Stroke or migraine? How to Know the Difference.

  • Unexplained chest pain. Chest pain or discomfort could be caused by heartburn, but it could also be a symptom of a heart attack. And these conditions can overlap: Almost 40% of female patients report experiencing heartburn or indigestion shortly before their heart attacks. With a heart attack, “time is muscle.” Regrettably, many heart attack patients die before reaching the hospital because the average person having symptoms waits three hours before getting help.

       Read Heartburn or heart attack? How to Save Your Own Life.

Other signs that may indicate a call to 911 include:

Why call 911?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), calling 911:

  • Brings the emergency room to your door. No matter how fast you think you can drive to the closest ER, first-responders can probably get to you more quickly. They also have the advantage of lights and sirens, with the ability to cut through traffic if necessary. And, they have the capability of starting lifesaving treatment right away.
  • Saves crucial time at the hospital. Advances in digital technology allow hospital emergency personnel to be ready to treat a patient before they arrive. EMTs can electronically send real-time test results, such as an EKG report, directly to hospital staff.
  • Increases the chance of getting a lifesaving drug. The blood-clot-busting stroke drug alteplase, for example, can only be given within three hours of a stroke. Patients are more likely to receive this effective treatment if they are transported to the hospital by ambulance.
  • Insures routing to the appropriate hospital. Most people know where their closest ER is but would be hard-pressed to locate the nearest certified stroke center or cardiac cath lab. Emergency services professionals know where to take patients for the specialized care that is best suited to treat their specific conditions.

You should always call 911 if you think someone is having a life-threatening medical emergency.

A lifesaving 911 call in Frisco

Philip Smith was a healthy, fit, 39-year-old marathon runner from Frisco who felt unwell one morning after a training run. When the uncomfortable feeling in his chest was followed by cold sweats, nausea and numbness in his hands, his wife Megan called 911. Her call started a chain of care that identified Phillip’s massive “widow maker” heart attack and very likely saved his life.